Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Brown Univ., 166 F. Supp. 3d 177 (D.R.I. 2016)

School type: Private
State: Rhode Island
Federal Circuit: First
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Breach of contract, Erroneous outcome, Exculpatory evidence, Title IX

The court denied portions of Brown’s motion to dismiss, including on Plaintiff’s Title IX and breach of contract claims.

The case stems from an encounter that involved manual touching, but not intercourse. Plaintiff alleges that his accuser, Jane Roe, said she liked the way Plaintiff was touching her, and that he was wholly unaware that she felt it was sexual misconduct. A week later, however, she filed a complaint with the university. Plaintiff was banned from campus effective immediately, and was ultimately suspended for 2.5 years.

Plaintiff brought Title IX and breach of contract claims against the university, as well as various other state-law claims.

Plaintiff alleged Title IX sex discrimination under both “erroneous outcome” and “deliberate indifference” theories. The court dismissed his deliberate indifference claim, noting both that he had not made the required showing that the university’s actions had been “clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances,” and that the deliberate indifference standard has questionable application to student discipline cases.

The court allowed Plaintiff’s erroneous outcome claim to proceed, however, finding both that Plaintiff had cast articulable doubt on the outcome of the proceeding by alleging that Brown had ignored exculpatory evidence, and that he had pled facts plausibly connecting that outcome to gender bias. The court discussed the ongoing debate over whether there is a distinction between allegations of gender bias and allegations of bias against accused students. While not ultimately answering this question, the court did find that Plaintiff’s complaint included sufficient allegations related to gender bias, including remarks by Brown faculty and employees about a culture at Brown that has “loaded the dice against boys” and about the existence of “overwhelming” gender bias at the university.

The court also allowed several of Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims to proceed. Under Rhode Island law, the relationship between a private university and its students is contractual and is interpreted “in accordance with the parties’ reasonable expectations.” While several of Plaintiff’s allegations did not meet this standard, others — such as his claim that he was improperly banned from campus prior to the investigation in violation of university policy, and that the university failed to respond to his requests for information despite a policy stating that it would — were sufficient to survive the university’s motion to dismiss.

The case eventually settled.